3 Steps to Building Inclusive Software Applications
We spend a lot of time talking and writing about inclusion in tech. We are on a mission to bring more diversity into our companies and software departments, and to create a culture that welcomes and supports that diversity. The focus is on our workplace, but what about the products that we build? We are building the future in so many lines of code. We should apply that inclusion to the software we write. Here are three easy ways to make your app more inclusive.
Know the difference between gender and sex
Sex is a scientific term for categories of reproductive organs, including but not limited to female, male, and intersex. Gender is a social term referring to behaviors and societal roles, including but not limited to women, men, and gender non-conforming. Unless your app is medical and requires you to ask about reproductive organs, you should ask for gender, not sex.
If you are asking for analytics purposes, you will get better data by asking for gender. It might be advisable to allow users to type in their own gender. There isn’t a lot of data on nonbinary users, not because they don’t exist, but because we haven’t been capturing the data. Always give an option of “prefer not to say” which covers people of genders you did not list and people who are uncomfortable with this question. And if you don’t really need to ask for it, you shouldn’t.
Offer three sets of pronouns: she, he, and they
If your app needs a user’s pronouns, ask them which pronouns they prefer and use singular they as a default. “They” has been accepted as a third pronoun option for those who do not wish to be gendered by their pronoun or those who do not identify as a woman or a man. If you ask for a user’s honorific (Ms., Mrs., or Mr.) you should also add the recently accepted non-gendered title Mx. You should also allow the honorific to be blank or “prefer not to say.”
Be mindful of the stock photography you use
Stock photography has a reputation for promoting monoculture. Your users want to see themselves represented in your app and in your marketing materials. It demonstrates that this app is made for them. Since diverse imagery is less common, you will need to make a conscious effort to include women, people of color, and queer people in your imagery and graphics.
This is just the beginning of what you can do to make your apps more inclusive, including improving accessibility for disabled users. The most effective way to build inclusive applications is to work on and hire diverse teams. Diversity is scientifically proven to create a more innovative team than a homogenous group. This may not be your reality yet, and in the meantime, you can advocate for inclusion in your software products by knowing the difference between gender and sex, using all three sets of pronouns, and mindfully choosing stock photography.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. It is intended to be the MVP for inclusion in an app. If you would add anything to this list, please leave me a comment!